woensdag, februari 19, 2003

Andy Flower and Protests

Admittedly, when I first saw Andy Flower's name in the news this morning, I had no idea who he was. I didn't know if it was the name of yet another hip new band of espresso-sipping, Sartre-obsessed nihilistists whose pyrotechnics set off a fire in the club they were playing, or an evil spinoff of the Andy Dick Show.

Turns out, Andy Flower plays cricket. I don't know much about cricket other than that England, a bunch of her old colonies and a few other stray commonwealth nations get together to play it in tournaments. I confess that even when in far-away lands where the fare of sport television is minimal to non-existent, even in this sports vacuum, I don't watch cricket matches and never will.

But Andy Flower isn't in the news simply because he plays cricket. He is in the news because he is from Zimbabwe, one of the priliminary round venues of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2003 and a country notorious for its President, Robert Mugabe, whose regime has endorsed human rights abuses and rigging of elections. Andy Flower is also in the news because he expressed displeasure over the state of affairs in his strife-torn country and said he would wear a black armband throughout the World Cup tournament to "mourn the death of democracy in the country.".

In fact, both he and teammate Henry Olonga said "we cannot in good conscience take to the field and ignore the fact that millions of our compatriots are starving, unemployed and oppressed.".

Many years ago, in the 1968 Mexico Olympics, US sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos gave a black power salute from the 200 metres medal podium to protest at the treatment of blacks in their country. The incident caused outrage and they were suspended and ordered to leave the Olympic village. Both found it difficult to get jobs for years to come.

Thus far, there has been no official reaction from the Mugabe administration other than to say it was "considering" its response. Although it seems clear that both players have jeopardized their international careers, given Mugabe's record as a ruler with a chilling history of torturing and murdering opponents, the personal safety of the two players might be more of a concern at this point than their future as cricket players.

You wouldn't think cricket could generate such a sensation. England recently decided to boycott what would have been their cup opener in Zimbabwe. Not, as one might hope, because of Mugabe's human rights record but because they didn't think it would be "safe" to play there.

Mugabe himself casts a rather large shadow over events as he will be allowed to visit Paris next week for an African leaders’ summit despite an EU travel ban on him, his wife and more than 70 members of his political circle and their families in protest at human rights abuses by his regime. There are even rumors that Mugabe will be arrested upon his arrival in Paris. It was demanded by human rights advocates that the French authorities detain Mr Mugabe under the country's anti-torture legislation as soon as he arrives to attend a Franco-Africa summit.

Once again, a tale is woven between factions of all sorts; diverse self-interests, politics, sports and of course, athletes. This time, instead of an athlete's name soiled in the news for drug violations, assaults, and the usual narratives of woe and self-indulgence, it is for a change, associated with dignity and bravery.

So while cricket still sparks no flicker of passion for me, at least I've come to respect Andy Flower and Henry Olonga. Even if before this morning, I'd never heard of them.

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